10/21/2014 4:18PM

Kentucky officials to meet with drug lab on testing delays


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The two top officials of Kentucky’s racing regulatory commission will meet on Wednesday with the management of the privately held drug-testing laboratory that conducts the state’s post-race drug tests to discuss the lab’s persistent delays, officials said Tuesday.

The meeting appears to be the final warning for LGC Sciences to address the delays before the commission puts in motion a process to formally sever its relationship with the lab. The commission’s contract with the lab expires on Jan. 31, but the contract has clauses that allow the commission to back out if the lab does not perform to turnaround standards on the tests.

Already, the commission’s equine medical director, Mary Scollay, has been asked to produce a request for proposals for other labs to perform the state’s drug-testing work, Scollay said last week. The meeting on Wednesday will be between top management of the lab and Robert Beck, the chairman of the commission, and John Ward, the commission’s executive director, the officials said.

A doctor of veterinary medicine, Scollay has been working with the lab for more than a month to attempt to iron out the problems, but she said on Tuesday that the lab’s earlier assurances to catch up on its backlog have not been resolved. In some cases, official test results on some samples are still backed up by two months, Scollay said.

“The efforts so far have been aggressively directed to righting the ship rather than cutting it from the mooring lines,” Scollay told the members of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council at a meeting on Tuesday. “I apologize that we haven’t made more progress, but it is not for a lack of effort.” The drug council is an offshoot of the racing commission.

The delays are affecting the drug-testing programs in multiple states where LGC Sciences performs tests, including Delaware and Indiana. Earlier this year, Delaware’s racing commission, citing dissatisfaction with the delays, approved issuing a new request for proposals to conduct the state’s drug-testing work in 2015, although officials said that they were inviting LGC to re-bid for the work. Indiana has contracted with another laboratory to do its post-race testing on a short-term basis as a way of easing the workload on LGC, but officials of its racing commission are still frustrated with the delays.

The laboratory, which is owned by a British company and opened outside Lexington in 2011, is headed by Rick Sams, one of the most respected drug-testing officials in the U.S. Multiple officials have said that Sams is not at fault for the delays, and that the lab has been plagued by faulty equipment and a lack of technicians to perform the work.

The delays are also partly due to new rules that have gone into force in Kentucky, Indiana, and Delaware over the last year establishing thresholds for dozens of therapeutic medications, officials have said. The new rules require the lab to confirm the concentration of the medication in a sample if initial pre-screening tests indicate the drug is present, and all three states have said that positives for therapeutic medications have spiked since the new rules were put in place as trainers and veterinarians adjust – or fail to adjust – to the new protocols.

In Kentucky, for example, regulators have called 10 positives for the regulated corticosteroid dexamethasone in the past two months, according to the racing commission’s records. Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory medication, is one of the new regulated drugs, and most of the positives in Kentucky have come from horses trained in Illinois, regulators said, where the same rules are not in place.

It’s unlikely that Kentucky would back out of its contract with LGC before the state could reach a drug-testing agreement with another lab, Scollay said, but the commission will likely accelerate work on that front if it cannot get satisfactory answers from management at the Wednesday meeting.